Concert review: Ishay Ribo electrifies Madison Square Garden

Making history, Ribo is the first Israeli to headline Madison Square Garden.
Israeli pop star Ishay Ribo performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Sept. 3, 2023. Ribo is the first Israeli to headline the venue. (Courtesy: Ribo)

“I love you,” Israeli singer Ishay Ribo told a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan Sunday night. It was clear fans loved him too, as they sang along, clapped and jumped in excitement.

Donning a buttoned shirt, a kippah, and visible tzitzit (fringes), Ribo, an Orthodox Jew, displayed his vocal prowess, especially during the song “Halev Sheli.”

The touching first verse translates to: “My heart is split in two/ What the maidservant could not see by the water/ Like a storm from the sea, it pounds/ like Miriam’s timbrel, it beats/ And there is no cure in the world.”

His encore featured the mega-hit “Lashuv Habaita” or “Come Home,” which boasts 49 million YouTube views.

Ribo told the crowd that there are angels who carry people’s prayers to God, emphasizing the power of tears in prayer.

Making history, Ribo is the first Israeli to headline Madison Square Garden. He follows in the footsteps of other Jewish artists who have graced MSG’s stages: Shlomo Artzi and Matisyahu.

Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer was scheduled to perform at the venue in 2008, but the show was canceled after more than 30 rabbis decreed that the concert would be inappropriate.

Read more: 7 Israeli artists who are bridging the religious-secular divide

Engaging the mesmerized crowd, Ribo humorously asked the crowd about his English fluency: “So how’s my English? So, so, kacha, kacha, or nice?”

His performance ranged from the high-energy “Techef Yipatach” (“Soon the Heart with Open”) to the crowd-engaging “Zocher Ani” (“I Remember”) where there was a fun call and response with the crowd.

Ribo was also joined by various artists, including Israeli singer Akiva Turgeman and the renowned Hasidic artist, Avraham Fried, whose duet on “Avinu Malkeinu” was especially soulful.

Amir Dadon also made an appearance, collaborating with Ribo on “Livhor Nachon” or “To Make The Right Choice.” Dadon’s guitar solo during the song was a standout moment.

Signifying the theme of the “Elul” concert series, named after the Hebrew month focused on introspection in preparation for the High Holidays, a shofar was blown on stage. While there was a smoke machine, Ribo remained mostly stationary, allowing his voice and passion to captivate the audience.

Another audience favorite was the upbeat “Ani Shayach Le’am” or “I Belong To a Nation.” Before taking a sip of water, Ribo recited the “shehakol” blessing, to which the crowd answered “Amen.” 

A notable instrument that caught the attention of many was the qanun, a stringed Middle-Eastern instrument with a trapezoidal shape.

Matan Hadari, 35, of Tel Aviv, commented on Ribo’s authenticity: “I think he is spiritual and authentic, and he appeals to those who want to be closer to God. I think his lyrics profoundly touch listeners.”

Chinka Fried, 19, from Israel and now residing in Philadelphia, shared her enthusiasm: “It was an amazing show. I’ve seen him in Israel, but it was a different feeling in the U.S.”

New Jersey resident Yelena Ortiz, who is in her 30s, said Ribo lived up to the hype. “I love him. I watch all his videos and I follow him online. He’s not just talented, but very humble too,” she said.

Israeli tech and marketing guru Hillel Fuld wasn’t surprised by the rave reviews online. Speaking to Unpacked, he said, “I have to admit, I was a late Ribo adopter. But the first time I saw him in concert singing about the high priest in the temple — and thousands of people including religious, secular, and ultra-orthodox sang along with him — I was sold.”

A recent New York Times article highlighted Ribo’s significant influence in Israel. The 34-year-old singer, who is originally from France, has resonated with both religious and secular audiences in Israel.

With each of his five albums selling over 15,000 copies, Ribo has bridged cultural divides. Early in his career, he encountered criticism from religious fans for performing at secular venues and from secular fans for holding performances with separate seating for religious audiences. 

But Ribo has persevered, aiming to unite the religious and secular through his music. “It’s part of my duty to be a bridge between these two worlds,” he has said.

The concert’s “Playbill” carried a personal note from Ribo: “For a long time, I’ve held this [journey] close to my heart, frequently questioning whether I’m dreaming or this is truly becoming a reality. Apparently, both answers are correct, thank God! The journey I’ve been on is a bit beyond my comprehension, starting from the first moment I held a guitar in my yeshiva dorm room all the way to the stage where I meet you all.”

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